Monday, August 01, 2011

Our Problem As Fans

I have been marinating on how to bring this up for a couple of weeks now. I have written and deleted so many paragraphs that I'm surprised that my "backspace" button hasn't gotten up and left my computer. So in the spirit of ripping the band-aid off rather than pulling it off slowly, let me say this:

Baltimore sports fans are paranoid.

I have been a fan of Baltimore sports for as long as I can remember anything. The hardest thing I do is to not be a homer when I am writing on here (and I know I often fail at that). But I have always been amused by the myopic viewpoint of Baltimore sports fans, until it got really out of hand over the last dozen or so years. But first, a little history...

Baltimore is a city that has never had a home. The North considers it a southern city, the South considers it a northern city. At one point it was a major player in the nascent country's development, but it was passed by New York and New Jersey in the north and South Carolina and Georgia in the south. Before long, Baltimore was looked at by people outside the city as a whistle-stop in between Washington DC and Philadelphia and the people in Baltimore were growing a very large chip on their shoulders. I am pretty sure it didn't help that the Baltimore Orioles moved to New York City and then became the juggernaut of professional sports while Baltimore couldn't keep a minor league baseball stadium standing.

Then it all started to come together. After a couple of stops and starts, Baltimore got an NFL team (they thought, at the time, for good) in 1953 and a MLB team in 1954. Within 5 years the city had a major championship (beating a team from high and mighty New York for added satisfaction) and a team that quickly became the class of the NFL right as the league's popularity exploded. And right as that was happening the baseball team began a run as arguably the best team in baseball. Another league that had not been able to get a foothold in the city looked like it finally had it going as the Baltimore Bullets got better and better and started fighting for an NBA title, making it to the Finals in 1971. Add in an indoor soccer championship and everything was coming up Milhouse for Baltimore.

And then it all fell apart.

The Bullets move to Washington DC and 4 years later win that NBA crown. The Colts move out of Baltimore a year after the Orioles win the World Series. The Orioles fall apart and go from that World Series to 107 losses in 5 years. The city eagerly accepts a cast off, secondhand team in an upstart football league that plays in the spring (the Philadelphia nee Baltimore Stars of the USFL) and watches that team win a championship only to see the league fold the next year in the dust of an ill-advised legal challenge to the NFL. The baseball team treads water, but even when it is doing well the fates seem to be against it so the season (and the post-season) was cancelled. The suffering football fans are basically told that they are never getting an NFL team (you may have heard something about building a museum) after watching NFL franchise after NFL franchise use Baltimore as a bargaining chip to get a better deal from their chosen city (see: Cardinals, St. Louis / Phoenix; Bengals, Cincinnati; Raiders, Oakland/Los Angeles; Buccaneers, Tampa Bay; et al). The fans in Baltimore sold out a preseason game in 93 minutes to watch two teams that they did not care one bit about just to show that the passion for NFL football was still there only to watch the league give expansion franchises to Charlotte NC and Jacksonville FL. The CFL decided that Baltimore deserved what they considered a professional franchise, only the NFL wouldn't let the city name the team after the old NFL team because it would confuse licensing rights with a team that had been wiped from existence and a city that had been told it would never be a member of the NFL again, even after the team offered to add "CFL" to that name.

Eventually the Orioles got good again (at least for a little while) and Baltimore got an NFL team (even though as a rule they were not at all fans of how they got it). But by then the damage had been done. The people of Baltimore have always had a chip on their shoulder because they feel slighted by the national consciousness, and the damage to their sports psyche was too much to bear.

Why am I bringing this up? Because all of this has led to Baltimore sports fans turning into that paranoid conspiracy theory guy that is convinced everyone is out to get them. I have never seen another fan base so completely out of their minds about making sure that the next hire is someone with local ties. Managers, front office personnel, even reporters. When the Orioles hired Lee Mazzilli in 2004 fans screamed in protest because he was most recently with the New York Yankees. Mazzilli led the Orioles to 78 wins in his first season and had them in 1st place in 2005 until the team fell apart in the middle of the Rafael Palmeiro steroid suspension / scandal / finger pointing at Miguel Tejada. But he was a Yankee, dammit. And my point then was "So what?" He is coming from a franchise that is winning. Maybe he can bring some of that dynamic and that success here. There is a reason that successful teams lose their coaches, be it in baseball or football or any other sport, and that is because the other teams recognize that success and want to emulate it. It makes sense. But around here making sense takes a back seat to making sure the hired help has a local commute just to get to the job interview. But that pales to the stink about reporters.

I am not going to opine on the merits and demerits of Jen Royle or Matt Vensel, because that is not the point of all of this. But the fact that Vensel is from Pittsburgh and Royle is from Boston (and for a double shot of local disgust she covered the Yankees for years before moving here to cover the Ravens and Orioles) apparently means that they are incapable of covering the local teams. Why? Because they are inherently biased against the Ravens and Orioles and their hometown allegiances will require, nay FORCE them to give disinformation; be overly critical of the local teams while giving too much praise to the opponents / rivals; and in any other way possible undermine the fan base here in order to facilitate the ascension of their home town teams.

As absolutely ludicrous as that sounds, it is what people (including certain locally owned AM sports talk station heads) actually believe. I have reached such a point of incredulity about the whole thing that I no longer know how to respond when someone I know says something like that (and I have heard friends actually say that the Orioles should have hired Rick Dempsey over Buck Showalter because Dempsey used to play here so he is obviously the right choice. Just an FYI - Dempsey played for the Yankees. That's who the Orioles got him from in a trade in 1976. But that seems to be forgotten by most people).

I am all for promoting from within. I love seeing someone I watched play and succeed come and work with players now and try to impart some wisdom upon them, but the simple fact is that other teams and other players have had success too and if they want to help the local teams improve than I am all for that as well. And while I love to see someone who grew up in the area find a home in the local media, I care more about their ability to analyze and report on what is happening with the teams that I watch (and cover). I do not care where they went to high school as long as they can give me information that I didn't already have or insight that I didn't think of or spark conversation that I am intrigued by and want to participate in, but more and more I seem to be in the minority about this.

What do YOU think?


  1. Rob, I absolutely agree with the premise of your post, but since this was brought to my attention via Royle's Twitter feed, I thought I'd address that particular aspect.

    I am a Baltimore native, but I no longer live in town. I'm saying that up front because I rarely listen to Baltimore sports talk radio anymore, and I have no idea how Royle is on the air. I read Vensel online in the Sun often, and although I'd heard somewhere along the line that he was a Pittsburgh guy, it rarely if ever comes up in his coverage, which is interesting and usually worth reading.

    The same can't be said for Royle, at least when it comes to her Twitter feed. In her bio, she lists herself as "Orioles & Ravens reporter/co-host." Over her last 200 tweets as of the time I started writing this comment, only 10 could even remotely be considered "reporting" on the Orioles or Ravens. One more was "reporting" via a RT of what another reporter had tweeted. Six of those 11 total tweets were consecutive quotes from a single John Harbaugh press conference.

    Meanwhile, 15 of those 200 tweets were responding to/promoting fake Twitter accounts, including @Fake_Buck, @DrunkGaryThorne, @NotShowalter, @NotJimHunter, @NotJimPalmer and @NotKenWeinman. There's no problem with this in and of itself, but she has tweeted several times how mean it is for someone to be out there tweeting as @NotJenRoyle. It's hypocritical, at the very least.

    Finally, 15 of those 200 tweets were explicitly belittling Baltimore fans, athletes or personalities (and I'm not stupid, I'm not counting playful banter between herself and colleagues among these). These tweets include "You suck, don't tell me my hometown sucks," which again is hypocritical enough on its own, but pair that with an earlier tweet saying "Connecticut sucks" (also obviously not counted among those 15) and it's even more so.

    There are a lot of morons out there who seem to care way too much where sports reporters in Baltimore are from. I'm sure Royle and others get a lot of mean-spirited comments, and even though it would be best to ignore them, I know that is a lot easier said than done. But I think the basis for a lot of the Royle hating out there isn't where she's from, it's that she is not doing her job, or at least isn't doing it well. She spends too much time complaining about the idiots out there and giving them a voice, and not enough time doing the reporting that would ultimately shut those people up.

    I follow a lot of Baltimore sports reporters. They'll banter back and forth with fans and they'll mention their pets or families, but it isn't the vast majority of their tweets. It is with Royle, especially this baseball season. The team is awful, and no reporter that I've seen is holding back on saying that. But there are still people who want to follow them, and good reporters are doing a good job covering the team on a daily basis. My understanding is that she has shifted to more Ravens coverage, but even before that happened, she was quite simply not measuring up to the other reporters in town. I remember her coming on as a guest occasionally when she was still in NYC (and I still lived in Baltimore), and she seemed pretty good. I know it must be annoying dealing with some of the people she has to deal with, but in my opinion she needs to worry about being a better reporter and not about the people who care where she's from.

  2. You make a wonderful set of points here....I just have to disagree with one. Jen Royle may be able to give me facts I didn't have already and do a decent job of covering the O's and Ravens....and I would not have a problem with her at all as a Bostonian or former Yankees reporter. EXCEPT....she baits the O's fan base with negative comments about a team she is supposed to be covering. Take her tweet today where she tweets "Ma Royle: "Buck Sucks". I don't care where she comes from or who she cheers for personally. I just don't want a reporter who is supposed to be covering my team to say such negative things from an account she uses to cover the team. Have your opinion and share it with whomever you want....but not from the same place where I (as a fan) am supposed to come to get facts about my team. Its insulting. We are already dealing with a long standing losing legacy.....its like salt in the wound.

  3. I disagree with you both. I think Royle is hilarious and she is the only reporter who let's us know who SHE is as a person. I'm fairly certain she has been on vacation for a week also so that's why her tweets recently haven't been informative. AND... She doesn't take crap from anyone... That's admirable. She's too good for Baltimore. She's been dead on with a lot of her reporting and even broke a few Ravens stories. Lighten up, guys.

    Looks like Sam has a lot of time on his hands. He should probably unfollow her.

  4. I understand both points... But Jen seems very cool. Like the chick you wanna have a beer with. Her twitter isn't all work-related and that's what I like about her. She has balls and she says what nobody else (homers) in this town have the guts to say. Oh and she's hot. Met her at Pickles and she was VERY nice and easy on the eyes. Big fan. We needed some flavor in this town.

  5. Woah Sam.... Cry me a river dude.

  6. Royle has taken a lot of slack based solely on where she is from. That's the point of this article. She was also harassed by WNST and we all know it. We may have turned our heads and some may have even piled on and joined in, but she was absolutely attacked because she's from Boston and covered the Yankees. Sad thing is, she probably has the most experience and the best birds-eye view of the entire division. But people were too caught up in her background.

    I'd be negative too if I were her. Can you blame her??!!

  7. So now we judge our local reporters on their tweets??? At least she has personality.

    Jen has been on vacation for a week. Her Ravens reports are great and she's really good on Baltimore Baseball Tonight.

  8. Full disclosure: I am Fake_Buck. I want to make sure that you know that before I touch on what Sam is saying.

    I can definitely see Sam's point about it being hypocritical for Royle to complain about a parody account while simultaneously tweeting back and forth with other parody accounts. But there is a difference in the tone of the parody accounts that she interacts with compared to the one(s) that she has a problem with. And there is also the argument that just because she's a sports reporter w/a Twitter account that she is not required to tweet only about sports (touching on both Sam and the first Anonymous commenter's issues w/Royle). Is she really covering the teams w/her Twitter posts? If just a little over 5% of her posts are "job related", I would lean towards not (of course, correlation does not equal causation and I am too busy to do a full on scientific study on the topic. But you please go right ahead).

    Should she try to take the high road more often with people baiting her? Possibly, but I cannot fault her for firing back. I am pretty sure that most if not all of us have snapped back at attacks, and from the looks of things Royle gets more of her fair share of abuse (which is a price that one has to pay to be in the public eye anymore, but that is a whole different conversation).

    I can say that I have good friends who cannot stand her as a reporter, and that their opinion of her has nothing to do with where she is from or who she has covered in the past. At the same time I have good friends who absolutely love her. I have reporters / bloggers / radio hosts that I actively avoid that others love. That is part and parcel of having so many outlets covering sports in a rather small town.

    Your mileage may vary.

  9. Ron--Nice blog.. Nothing againest Sam. Jen's tweeter account is her window to show fans her passion and zest for family, life, and yes sports!

  10. Hey Ron...first off sorry for typing "Rob" before...maybe I am a moron haha. Anyway I do want to reiterate what I said before, that I am currently an out-of-towner myself, and rarely listen to any Baltimore sports talk radio. I get my news online. I knew of Jen's work when she was in New York, and by the time she came to Baltimore I was gone so I have never really gotten to know her as a radio reporter.

    This is a broader subject but I think it's unrealistic for any reporter to expect their Twitter - or other public social media platforms they use - to not be considered a connection to their jobs. I certainly don't begrudge unrelated overriding point was that as much, if not more, of her tweets are seemingly complaining about the idiots or appearing to belittle and bait Baltimoreans (whether that's her intention or not) as they are commenting on the Orioles and Ravens.

    The simple fact that she was tweeting quotes from a Harbaugh press conference shows that she agrees that Twitter is, in fact, intertwined with her job. I absolutely don't mean disrespect to you or to her. There are undoubtedly some people who think she can't be a Baltimore sports reporter because of her background, and that's dumb, I just was posing a point that in her case, I don't buy the Boston/NYC aspect as the issue for most people.

  11. I left this comment before but it disappeared. I was going to say, Ron, you're not in the minority at all. I've been following local reporters for years, some better than others, and I've noticed over the years that information seems to come out later, or just differently, that either wasn't reported or wasn't told to the media at first. I prefer to hear what really happened and to hear the tough question asked. Jen is far from the only honest reporter in town, nor is she the only one who absorbs barbs. She has a saucy quality, but I wouldn't trade that for someone who gets cold feet in an interview or holds back.

  12. none of you will ever have her so get over it. shes hot shes great shes so nice she dont care about you. only the baltimore paycheck. " I love waking up looking at the water". also lance & steve you are pains in her ass.

  13. Sam, no worries on calling me "Rob". I get called worse all the time. And you do bring up a good point that no one who reports for a living can expect that their Twitter page will not be looked at as an extension of that job. And because she does use it for work related things that line gets even murkier. I guess I look at it more along the lines of that her Twitter feed is not affiliated w/her employer (unlike Roch Kubatko, who's Twitter handle is @masnRoch), so my point is that she is not as retrained to a topic as others. But that is getting into semantics.

    Steve, I don't know why the first comment disappeared. I'm sorry about that. I am publishing everything that doesn't go past PG-13 language and content-wise here. I'm not into censorship or only posting opinions that agree with mine. Of course, you DID agree with me, but that's besides the point.

    To the last anonymous poster, don't be a tool. Not everyone who defends someone is white knighting it.

  14. Sam of course Jen uses twitter for work. You are basing her twitter reporting on a very small sampling. That's the problem. She has broken several stories via twitter and is very informative. She's not on the Orioles "beat" so don't expect 200 Orioles tweets/day from her. She's a reporter/radio personality not a beat/fact writer like that bobble head Britany

  15. Sam you dont even live here. Trust me, 95% of criticism she's gotten is because of Boston an New York.

    I think she's entertaining and very knowledgable. Fans have wrongfully attacked her since Day 1

  16. The original article hit a nerve with me. I am one of those MD natives who grew up with the Colts and Orioles, and am very sensitive to this day about the situation with the Colts. Why- is this rational? No. Is it right or wrong to "have a chip on the shoulder" after a few decades? I dunno, but I do anyway.

    Every year starting as young as I can remember I would go to Colts and Orioles games with my dad, older brother, and grandfather. I'm sure there are others in the Bmore area with similar experiences. For me going to Colts and Os games with the fam was a heralded ritual- a basis of emotional foundation. Three generations of men in the family getting together for an outing bonded us.

    So as you ask yourself why so many in Bmore area get so defensive about the Os and Colts (to some degree Ravens) maybe you should really ask yourself why you are so incredulous at such reaction from Bmore fans. There are many fans who react the way you describe- because of emotional attachment. Does it make sense? Perhaps not, but emotions seemingly more often than not don't make sense.

    Then maybe contemplate how native New Yorkers might react if the Yankees packed up and moved to Boise in the middle of the night. The sporting world would probably implode.

    Go ahead and wonder why Bmore natives are protective of their teams. Because to Bmore, they are family.

  17. I don't know if you are a regular reader of this blog, but I am a born and bred Baltimore sports fan. I went to Orioles and colts games pretty much from birth. I also am a 3 generation attendee. I went to games with my father and grandfather and I cherish those memories. I still have the program from the Colts game in 1982 when they tied the Packers 20-20 while en route to an 0-8-1 season and a first pick that was used on John Elway. I still root against the Broncos w/a passion because Elway played there, and I still flip off Mayflower vans. My bedroom was blue and white. Christmas pictures show me in my Colts pajamas while I open gifts like my Colts helmet lamp. I know Baltimore sports. And I have no problem being protective of your favorite team. What I do have a problem with is automatically assuming that just because someone doesn't pronounce "water" with an "R" in the middle that they have some secret agenda to bring down your favorite team, that they cannot be trusted, and that they are unqualified to report on your team. That's not being protective and that's not being defensive. That is being silly (that is the nicest possible way to say it).

    I know that I am not going to change everyone's mind about this. That isn't why I wrote it. I wrote it because I think fans here need to take a moment to examine why they think this way. I tried to look at it from as rational of a position as I possibly could. And I understand it. I just don't think it helps us.

    And while the Yankees might not have moved to Boise, the Giants and Dodgers moved 3,000 miles away. And I don't see fans in New York attacking a reporter just because he or she is from San Diego.

  18. Does it matter where anyone is from? As Ron has pointed out, Rick Dempsey played for the Yankees. I've never understood the irrational hatred that this city has for reporters like Matt Vensel and Jen Royle. They are among the best in their respective businesses. Nick Markakis is from New York, I don't hear anyone criticize him for that. Gary Thorne is from New England and has no ties to Baltimore other than that he's on the O's broadcast crew. I hear no one bashing him. Jen is a welcome change, and I wish that everyone would appreciate her knowledge. I respect her because she says what she thinks, and doesn't care what anyone thinks.